OpinionOpinion

Op-ed: The Berkeley Library should apply larger view in naming its buildings

On Wednesday April 22 at 6:30 p.m., the Board of Library Trustees will meet at the South Branch Library at 1901 Russell St. to review its naming policy and to hear requests to rename the South Branch to honor Tarea Hall Pittman.

The Berkeley Public Library’s Naming Policy strongly favors naming branch libraries only for their geographical location — north, south etc. The Policy sets stringent requirements for naming any of the libraries after any person except “the rare individual” whose contribution to the Library or a facility is “extraordinary, unique and of highest quality.”

The policy also requires that there must be a strong consensus among library users and residents of the surrounding neighborhood to change the name of the library facility. The request to change the Library’s name does come from a neighborhood, grassroots effort led by local resident Charles Austen and the Convening Committee who report that 2000 neighbors and supporters signed the petition urging this name change.

The Berkeley City Council unanimously approved the request on February 10, 2015 and referred the request to the Trustees.

The Library could and should apply a much larger and more generous view in its naming policy for its buildings — one that gives the opportunity to honor past community leaders who can inspire and encourage younger people to educate themselves and to work for justice and other difficult goals as earlier leaders have done.

Mrs. Pittman transcends the Library’s goals. She worked and achieved large goals of civil rights and fairness, which include, but are even broader than, support or work with or for the Berkeley Public Library. Public buildings like the Library, it seems to us, should be named for outstanding leaders in any field, not just those in the field to which the particular building is devoted.

South Branch is the library in Mrs. Pittman’s long-time neighborhood. Mrs. Pittman and Dr. William R. Pittman, the first African-American dentist in Berkeley, lived at 2930 Grove St. [now Martin Luther King Jr. Way] very close to the current library location. Both Dr. and Mrs. Pittman surely relied on libraries to achieve their advanced educations.

Mrs. Pittman was an important African-American civil rights leader in Berkeley, the East Bay, California and nationally in the 1930’s through the 1970’s as a leader of the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the National Negro Congress; the Negro Education Council; and several associations of Women’s Clubs, which were then important forces in the African-American community.

Mrs. Pittman’s long-running weekly radio program “Negroes in the News,” on radio station KDIA, was an important source of positive news for and about the African-American community and informed her listeners about important civil rights issues and campaigns — at a time when good news of their community was little covered.

Mrs. Pittman was a key leader who registered African-Americans to vote; led protests to persuade war industries to hire African Americans; pushed to integrate Bay Area communities and to desegregate the Oakland Fire Department, and led the NAACP’s successful effort to pass the California Fair Employment Practices law.

The League of Women Voters of Berkeley Albany and Emeryville supports this effort to recognize Tarea Hall Pittman by adding her name to the South Branch Library. Read our letter to the Board.

If you would like the Library Trustees to know your opinion about the proposal, please join us on Wed 22 April at 6:30 pm at the South Branch Library at 1901 Russell St.

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Nancy Bickel is the President of the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, and Emeryville.